There are two basic kinds of wood: hardwood and softwood. Hardwood is wood that comes mostly from broad leafed tree species. These are trees that typically lose their leaves over the weekend. They are species such as oak, hickory, cherry, birch, and so on. Softwoods are typically evergreens. They usually have needles and cones instead of leaves. Hardwoods in general are harder and denser than softwoods, but that’s not absolutely the case. There are some very hard softwoods, such as yew.
If you’re looking for cabinets, you’ll see some that are made of cedar or pine. Should you consider softwood cabinets? Possibly.
Cedar and Pine
Cedar and pine are two of the most common softwoods in use for furniture and cabinetry. They are very common in utilitarian installations such as cabins and workshops. If you are deciding on kitchen cabinets for a kitchen in a cabin, softwoods might be appropriate. If you’re choosing cabinets for a workshop, a tool shed, or a ski lodge, they could evoke the proper look as well. Also, if you are building a kitchen around those themes, softwood could be the proper wood.
Softwood was used for cabins and lodges mostly because softwoods are readily available. They typically grow faster and more abundantly than hardwoods; if you’re in snowy environments, most of the trees will be softwoods.
So, if those are the reasons to choose softwood cabinets, why doesn’t everyone opt for them?
Softwood is not the preferred building material for most indoor applications because of the density of the wood. Softwoods are usually not as hard and dense as hardwoods; in fact, most people can dent pine with just their fingernails. So, if you are building some shelves for your walls, that might be fine. However, the cabinet doors will get banged up over time. They’ll eventually start to take on scratches and dents from their use. Furthermore, the density of the wood means that it will absorb heat and moisture more than hardwoods. If not accounted for, your cabinets could warp and discolor.
To account for that, softwoods need to be stained and sealed or painted. Stain will keep them from discoloring somewhat. A waterproof seal, such as polyurethane, will keep it from absorbing moisture. It will also protect the cabinets from scratches and dents. The polyurethane will likely be harder than the wood itself. Paint will not protect from scratches quite as well, but it does the work of coloring and sealing.